Accumulation of potassium in scala vestibuli perilymph of the mammalian cochlea

Alec N. Salt, Kenji Ohyama

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Movements of potassium (K+) were monitored during perfusion of either the scala tympani (ST) or the scala vestibuli (SV) of the guinea pig cochlea with a solution containing 15 mmol/LK+. A highly asymmetric clearance of K+ was observed, with K+ rapidly being taken up from the ST and allowed to accumulate in the SV. Under some conditions the SV K+ concentration could exceed that in the perfused ST. These observations are believed to result from the distortion of passive K+ diffusion by the high circulating current of K+ that is part of the transduction process. Calculations are presented to demonstrate that circulating fluxes are of sufficient magnitude to generate the results observed. The high rate of circulating K+ current is probably also responsible for the difference in physiologic K+ concentration between the ST and SV, in which the ST perilymph K+ concentration is typically found to be half that of the SV. A clearance of K+ from the ST and its eventual accumulation in the SV could play a role in how the ear responds to abnormal ion concentrations, such as may occur in Meniere’s disease. It is proposed that an accumulation of K+ in the SV would result in vestibular dysfunction that might contribute to the vestibular symptoms of the disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-70
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1993


  • Meniere’s disease
  • cochlear fluids
  • perilymph


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